Scaling Down

It is a fact that I am a rather disorganised person. This blog is a good example of that, there’s no fixed time in my week allocated to ensuring that I regularly manage to publish posts. Thus, the blog can go months without a post, then have a run of posts at weekly intervals. That probably isn’t going to change, but my lack of organisation is not the sole reason for the irregular posting. There’s only a limited amount of content I can put out, and the stories I have are generally too lengthy to be completed in one sitting (so they get left in the drafts folder for months or even years). I’ve decided to try and resolve that second issue by broadening the scope of the blog.

Rather than just talking about real-life transport (and important but off-topic issues), starting with this post I will also cover my model-railway project(s). I have a dream to construct a rather large layout, but currently I have next to no space to set up a model railway. After many years hoping to find space, I have given up and decided to build something small and try to squeeze it in anywhere I can. This will also give me a chance to practice and improve my (currently very limited) modelling skills in order that, if I ever get onto my big project, I have a chance doing the idea justice.

Anyway, the starting point for this ‘something small’ is one of three baseboard frameworks of 2-by-1 timber made by my father for the layout I had in our previous house (the other two frameworks will remain in storage for the time being). I cannot find the legs the baseboards once stood on, maybe somebody used them to build something else. The first order of business therefore was to design and build some new legs. Design-wise, the big problem was how to attach them to the framework; initially I planned to have them hinge up under the board but it was pointed out to me that the bracing of the framework would get in the way of the screwdriver when I tried to attach the hinges. Outside hinges couldn’t be attached at one end, due to some damage on the timber, and they would have put the legs outside the framework. Back to the drawing board. I want the layout to be portable, meaning fixed legs are undesirable. With hinges ruled out, the new plan was detachable legs (held on by nuts and bolts).

Photo of damaged screwheads
Mangled Screwheads; they’re all too soft
Using some 2-by-1 timber found in our ‘random bits of wood’ storage area, a pair of legs (each formed of two verticals with two horizontals as bracing) were assembled over the weekend of 12-13th November 2016. The timber was very hard, sawing it to length was a pain and efforts to screw the components together were thwarted. The screws heads were too soft, with the slot for the screwdriver getting mangled (this happened both with brass-coloured screws and silver-coloured ones). After a few screws, the drill bit used for making the pilot holes snapped and screwing was abandoned in favour of nailing.

Parts of model railway baseboard in workshop
My baseboard legs and the framework leaning against the woodwork bench
Once the legs had been made, the structure was loose-assembled (we did not have bolts yet) and it was found the structure was not sufficiently stable; the framework would wiggle back and forth. Quite a disappointment, but I had an idea to solve it. The idea involved more 2-by-1 timber, and the remaining lengths from the stash I had found were not long enough.

That didn’t matter too much since I was intending to go wood-shopping anyway; the chipboard tops from the old layout have probably been thrown away, so some ply to form the new surface was on my shopping list. Progress would however have to wait until the shopping had been done.

So, I now have at least one follow-up post to write, but I don’t know yet whether this modelling series will run for very long.

Silent Threat

Yesterday morning (15th November 2016) at about 08:32, BBC radio 4 had an interview with Bernie Sanders, one of the Democratic party’s candidates who were in the running to fight the recent presidential election in the USA. Of course, it was Hillary Clinton who the party eventually put forward, but back to the BBC’s interview.

Asked what he feared now that Donald Trump has been elected as the next president. First, he replied that he was afraid racism and sexism would rise, but he didn’t stop there. Importantly, he continued to voice the very same fear that I have; that Trump believes climate change is a hoax. Mr Sanders was very clear on this, climate change is NOT a hoax and Trump’s failure to recognise that frightens him very much.

Yet Trump’s dangerous stance was hardly presented during the campaign, and the interviewer yesterday asked whether Mr Sanders thought of Donald Trump as a fascist (he didn’t), and whether he thought he would have had a better chance of beating Trump than Hillary, but there was nothing more on the climate. Similarly, the coverage of the UK general election last year and national assembly for Wales election this year barely featured the various party’s policies on greenhouse gas emissions.

It appears that much of the media won’t talk about climate change. That’s a very dangerous silence, yesterday’s interview also asked how Trump could be stopped on issues like women’s rights, given that the republicans control Congress and President Trump will be able to appoint people to the relevant court. Bernie Sanders answered that they would need to educate and mobilise millions of people, to make the political cost of implementing such measures too expensive for the republications to go ahead.

Mobilise and educate millions; that would be rather difficult if you cannot reach them because the media refuse to transmit the messages. It is time they gave the climate the coverage it needs.

Varsity Ventures

The M4 motorway at Port Talbot
M4 Port Talbot (photograph by Kevin Corcoran)
After a pleasant afternoon watching, and riding on, trains, my ‘short holiday’ started to go downhill. I’m picking up the story where I left off, in a car on the M4, having been met by family members at Port Talbot. There’s no doubt about it, motorways are very dull ribbons of dreary tarmac (and/or concrete), apparently without exception. Actually, that’s a good question, can anyone think of an exception? We did of course leave the motorway eventually, but not until after stopping for dinner. Thus we were in darkness as we headed up the A420, negotiated the Oxford ring road and the A418 past Aylesbury and onto the A505. Unfortunately, if there’s any travel more boring than miles of motorway then it is probably night-time motoring. Of course family chat and, occasionally, the radio can partly relieve the monotony, and so can navigation, but these don’t really make up for not being able to see what you’re passing. I think we were all relieved when we finally arrived at our booked accommodation, after crossing the A5 and twice passing the M1. No, I didn’t get us lost, the written directions used for the last few miles to our destination were written as though we were coming up the M1 from London and I didn’t want to risk finding my own route with just a road atlas (I might have tried it if I had been equipped with an Ordnance Survey Landranger map).

While helping to keep me sane, navigating was perhaps also a little stressful; there’s often an argument between at least two occupants of the car over the best route. On this occasion though, there was at least general agreement that the motorway network didn’t really suit our journey, much like the rail network it radiates out from London and I don’t think any of us fancied the M25.

Second Severn Motorway Bridge
Into England (public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Anyway, so why are we here, in self-catering accommodation not far from the M1? Why would anyone want to come here? Although the accommodation was of a reasonable standard, the noise of the motorway could be heard if you stood outside and my mother wondered why somebody would come on holiday here. Our reason was that my brother had educational commitments in Milton Keynes, and the rest of us were just taking advantage of the trip to see a few things. I had a stab at answering Mum’s question by taking quick look at the map, the obvious tourist attractions were Woburn Abbey and its Safari Park. Apparently, none of us were interested in the latter, but the Abbey was one reason for my elder’s interest in the visit. Another of their reasons, and one I’d come along for too (though not the main reason) was Bletchley Park.

The next day, after dropping my brother off, we drove down towards Didcot to one of the other attractions which had drawn me, ‘Pendon Museum’. This ‘museum’ features three model railways, one a very early example of the craft. The other two are much more recent, at least one is still under construction, and very impressive with detail extending to the interior of buildings and a birdwatcher observing a bird of prey. These model various parts of the steam-era Great Western Railway, although they are intended to capture a snapshot of buildings and scenery typical of the areas concerned rather than being models of a particular location (the buildings in the model village don’t all belong to the same real-world village). We decided the Oxford ring road (with its many roundabouts) was no more appealing in daylight than it had been at night, so went back to Bicester via a different route (which involved the M40).

Bletchley Park introduction exhibit entrance
Bletchley Park introduction entrance. Image from ‘The Hub’ (fit-out contractor) website.
On the third day (Monday), we made the much shorter journey to Bletchley Park. We had thought we may move on to somewhere else afterwards, but our visit took us through until it was time to collect my brother again. We didn’t even visit the adjacent national museum of computing, which contains more of the code-breaking machines created on the site, although it wasn’t fully open that day anyway. Interestingly, the entrance to Bletchley Park’s introductory exhibit had a railway theme. The word ‘entrance’ was in white text on a midland-red background, while the doorways beneath it had imitation railway-carriage slam-doors. Also present was a four-way ‘fingerpost’ sign, also in midland-red, pointing to ‘platform 1 for Oxford, platform 2 for Cambridge, platform 3 for Glasgow and platform 4 for London. I doubt such a sign actually would have existed on a station, but railways from Bletchley to the four places in question certainly did exist.

Bletchley Park Cambridge-Oxford sign, photo by Caroline Longstaffe
Varsity fingerpost, Bletchley Park. Photo by Caroline Longstaffe
Sadly, you cannot currently make a reasonably direct journey from Milton Keynes to Oxford by rail today, because the central section of the Oxford-Cambridge ‘Varsity Line’ has been closed since 1967; so when we headed off to visit Oxford on the fourth day we couldn’t leave the car in Milton Keynes with my brother. The line which would have taken you to Cambridge still exists as far as Bedford, but beyond that it is also gone.

Chiltern Railways service at Oxford Parkway station
Stopping short of Oxford: Chiltern Railways service waiting to London at Oxford Parkway
One of the many Milton Keynes roundabouts we traversed on our excursions in the Oxford direction was called, I kid you not, ‘Bottledump Roundabout’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was liberally scatted with discarded plastic bottles, presumably thrown out of passing cars. Whether the bottles were there first and this inspired the name or vice-versa I do not know. The railway between Bletchley and Oxford is now to be reinstated, but we were several years early. So, to avoid the Oxford traffic, we parked at ‘Bicester Village’ station, which until the recent complete rebuild was ‘Bicester Town’. Previously, ‘Bicester Town’ was served by a shuttle to Oxford, but now Chiltern Railways have had a new section of track built to allow services from London Marylebone to Oxford, running through ‘Bicester Village’ station. This project wasn’t complete either, enhancements work was still taking place near Oxford so we had to transfer to a bus for the final leg into Oxford from Oxford Parkway station.

Of course, it is not only Chiltern who have significant changes planned on their part of the network. The electrification work of parts of the Great Western Main Line (GWML) will see Intercity Express Programme (IEP) class 800 bi-mode trains introduced from next year (2017). Thus we get to my principle reason for coming on this trip; the five class 180s currently with the franchise will be moved to Grand Central, probably by the end of 2017, as the 800s arrive. Having never been on a 180, I was keen to get a ride on one to compare them with the related class 175 units we have in Wales while I had the chance.

Class 180 number 180108 at Oxford Railway Station
180108 arrives at Oxford to take me to Kingham
I left my elders and boarded my first 180, 180108 on a Cotswolds line service to Kingham. From there, I returned to Oxford on another class 180. I was pleased to discover that the interior of standard class did indeed have much in common with the class 175s, with ample legroom even in airline-style seating. Rather strangely however, especially on a line with short platforms like the Cotswolds line, the first-class carriage on the 180s (class 175s are standard-class only) was not one of the driving vehicles at the ends. Instead, one standard-class coach was isolated on its own at one end, with the adjacent coach being the first-class one. Given that I’ve read standard-class ticket-holders are not even allowed to stand in the vestibules of first class coaches on Intercity 125s, I wonder what happens if somebody in the isolated standard class coach wants to alight at a short platform where that carriage is off the end of the platform. One of the four standard class carriages on the 180, perhaps the isolated one, also seemed to have fewer bays of four around tables than the others. Another feature that the class 175s lack but can be found on a 180 is the mini-buffet/cafe. This is really quite small, with just one of the main external windows blanked out by it, though it didn’t appear to be open. I’m not sure if First Great Western bother with it anymore.

Old building in Oxford
One Of The Old Ones: building in Oxford
Back in Oxford, I rejoined my mother and grandmother for a walk around parts of the city; admiring the architecture of some of the old university buildings and other heritage structures. One of these was a church whose tower is of Saxon origin (it is close to the building in the photograph, click that to go to my Flickr where you should be able to find photos of the Saxon tower too). It was then back via bus, train and car to Milton Keynes, to collect my brother, and to our ‘holiday’ accommodation.

END OF PART 2

We return to Wales in the final instalment of this mini-series of blog posts, which I did eventually get round to writing.

The Real Zombie Apocalypse

In May 2010, it was announced that the recently-formed Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government had cancelled plans for a third runway at Heathrow. George Monbiot called it “the biggest victory for the environment movement since the scrapping of the last Tory government’s road-building programme.” and the BBC report claimed that “It was always common ground between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to oppose the third runway.”

How things have changed. Like the zombie road schemes that refuse to stay dead, the 3rd runway has risen from the grave to threaten the land of the living yet again. Despite his famous claim, from before he came to power, “The third runway at Heathrow is not going ahead, no ifs, no buts”, former prime minister David Cameron is at least partly responsible for the recent resurrection. After all, it was his government who set up the airports commission to report back once the 2015 general election was out of the way. His so-called ‘greenest ever’ government has therefore put one the most environmentally damaging proposals devised in recent times back on the agenda. If the Tories with this abysmal record are genuinely the greenest government ever then it is no surprise we are in the colossal mess we are in; because the previous governments must have been even worse than abysmal.

Theresa May, apparently, was also once opposed to Heathrow. Does becoming Prime Minister magically blind people to the unthinkable environmental consequences of a new runway? Her promise “to build a Britain not driven by the interests of a privileged few” now sounds terribly hollow too, since 70% of all flights are taken by people earning over £155,000 per year, against an average UK salary of £26,500. Even airline pilots apparently earn less (£78,482) than most of their passengers.

The extra runway is certainly a serious threat to the climate; in 2005 it was estimated that aviation CO2 emissions alone made up around 6.3% of UK emissions. It seems likely that UK emissions will need to be cut by more than that every year to meet our targets, and that 6.3 figure doesn’t capture the full extent of aviation’s climate impact (although nobody seems able to agree on the extent to which emitting various greenhouse gasses at attitude effects the climate, it is generally considered to be significantly worse than ground-level emissions of CO2 alone). That was without the third runway, with it aviation could account for two thirds of the UK’s entire carbon budget, what would other sectors have to do to cut enough emissions to free up enough carbon budget to ‘fund’ the aviation industry?

While Heathrow is pretty much full, many other UK airports have spare capacity. This suggests to me that Heathrow is where airlines and/or passengers want to fly to and from. Looking at it that way, there may be an argument for the third runway, but to be reconcilable with the need to curb emissions you would have to remove flights from other airports to provide the carbon ‘funding’ for Heathrow’s extra flights. Monbiot’s latest article on the topic at the time of writing states that the airports commission justified expansion via either bigger emissions cuts in other sectors (no thanks, the challenge is big enough as it is thank you) or a carbon tax to price the lower-margin routes out of existence (which as I see it is equivalent to my suggestion of cutting back flights at other airports).

Sources:
Monbiot, 2010
Monbiot, 2016
BBC news, 2010
No ifs, no buts
Theresa May U-Turn (Green party, 2016)
carbon budgets
impact of flying on the environment, Guardian 2010
frequent flyer earnings
Mirror 2015, average UK salary
two thirds of the carbon budget, The Ecologist, 2016

Fractured Nation

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, and that this one is very much ‘off the rails’ (and in fact doesn’t mention public transport at all).

People have voted to leave the European Union. Note that I did not say “the United Kingdom has voted”, because certain areas, including all of Scotland and a few parts of Wales (such as Ceredigion) returned a majority for ‘Remain’.

When I heard the result of the EU referendum, I was instantly terrified that ‘Great Britain’ could now be doomed. I wasn’t going to vote in the referendum, but had a sudden change of mind in the evening on polling day and voted remain primarily because I expected Scotland to vote remain, and I wanted to be on their side to keep Britain together and hence keep Britain great. I don’t want another Scottish independence referendum, as I have a strong emotional attachment to ‘Great Britain’ as the union of England, Wales and Scotland. I consider myself to be Welsh too, but I think my attachment to Great Britain is even stronger.

As I have noted before, Dan Snow, on the BBC’s “Panorama Live” programme following the 2015 general election, voiced the opinion that most of Scotland really wants to stay British. He stated that we are being driven apart by the divisive First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system. I feel that the EU referendum has had the same effect, it has been incredibly divisive; the conspiracy theorist in me says that it was deliberately called by the Conservative government in order to split everybody else so that the EU-related rift in the Conservative party looks normal. If that really was the reason for the referendum, it certainly seems to have succeeded.

I feel that, with Scotland, we can keep Britain great, inside the EU or out. It will be hard work, we need to ditch FPTP and the people need to be involved; in designing its replacement, in deciding what relationship we have with the EU in future and in determining which regulations to keep following exit from the EU.

My opinion is that Scotland, England and Wales are countries, but they aren’t independent countries. We need a system that reflects that, with self-governance for the member-nations with the UK government dealing with issues that only independent countries need to worry about (like defence).

Sorting that little lot out could take some time. So could sorting my head out after such a jolting result, so it might be quite a while before I write another blog post.

Regardless of when you’ll hear from me again; now and forever,
Keep Britain Great.

Summer Sunday Surprise

TrawsCymru T5 Optare MetroCity bus in Aberystwyth
Now snappable on Sundays? I took this photo on a weekday last year, but it should now be possible to take similar on Sundays.
There’s some good news today (29th May 2016). Today is a Sunday, and for the first time in many years Cardigan will be served by a mainline bus service (in recent years, the only Sunday buses in Cardigan have been the coastal path walkers’ buses, which only run on Sundays in the summer). However, there still won’t be any bus services in Cardigan on Sundays during the winter, since today’s new Sunday services are only operating from the last Sunday in May to the last in September. The new Sunday timetable will also run on bank-holiday Mondays, again until September.

So, what is Cardigan’s new summer Sunday service like? The answer is that there are three journeys to Haverfordwest and back, three to Aberystwyth and back and two shorter workings, one to/from Newport and the other to/from Fishguard. Two trips in each direction appear to be through services between Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest (whether or not they actually require a change of bus in Cardigan, as I believe is often the case with the Mon-Sat T5, I’m not sure).

As you would probably expect, these services are advertised under the TrawsCymru T5 banner, but unlike the rest of the week the Sunday T5 appears to operate a fixed route, with all the Aberystwyth workings travelling via both New Quay and Aberporth. Really then, north of Cardigan this is the old TrawsCambria 550 in disguise. Confusingly, with the services to Haverfordwest the timetable doesn’t indicate whether Trecwn and Mathry Road are served.

Quiet Uprising

I had planned to release a slightly different post this week, which would essentially have been a rant about how the two parties which dominate our political system don’t really offer a meaningful choice in some key policy areas, but I wasn’t happy with it. That may still appear at some point, after some revisions and the Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliament elections, but for now it suffices to say the following.

The Tories, and elements of the Labour party (the parts that disagree with having Jeremy Corbyn as their leader I believe), represent the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda, which includes deregulation and privatisation. George Monbiot has written much more about neo-liberalism if you want to know. Both these parties benefit from the First Past The Post voting system (FPTP), and love to claim that you must vote for them to keep the other out. This, sadly is generally true, because of FPTP. The Conservatives have even been at it in their campaign for today’s Welsh Assembly elections; don’t fall for it though because they only have a few more seats in the assembly than Plaid Cymru thanks in part to the fact that only 40 of the 60 assembly members are elected using FPTP. The other 20 seats are filled using a proportional system, so anything can happen.

Today then, at the Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliament elections, we have a chance to implement a quiet uprising against the two-party status quo, by voting for smaller parties. Here in Wales, the main choices are of course Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens. I believe all four of these parties have ruled out the £1bn plus second M4 around Newport, the ‘Black Route’, with most favouring the upgraded A-road alternative to a second M4, known as the ‘Blue Route’. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have ruled out the second M4.

Make Votes Matter Day 2016 (Demo For Democracy) Advert
Make Votes Matter Day 2016 Advert

The elections will be followed on Saturday (May 7th) by two events in London, which hopefully will also amount to a peaceful uprising. One is the ‘Demo For Democracy’, organised by ‘Make Votes Matter’, who are probably the latest group to make a stand against FPTP. The other is called ‘Own The Future’ and aims to counter the neo-liberal consensus on privatisation, instead protecting nationalised public services. This is organised by the ‘We Own It’ group.

Away Day

I have recently returned from a ‘short holiday’ to England. This blog post is an account of the first leg. On Saturday (19th March 2016), I set out alone by bus to Fishguard. From there, I walked to Fishguard & Goodwick station, where I found the new toilet had not yet been opened and, after photographing the incoming train, decided to make my way to the harbour station instead. I was pleased to see 158839 doing the honours on the daytime boat-train, rather than the unwelcome class 150 substitute unit which tends to appear whenever I observe this working.

Class 158 DMU at Fishguard & Goodwick station
Much Appreciated: class 158 on the ‘boat train’
After boarding at the harbour, a pleasant ride was had to Llandeilo Junction, where I was a little disappointed to see we took the route towards Swansea rather than the Swansea District Line. Of course the next scheduled stop was Bridgend, so the train instead avoided the ‘Swansea High Street’ terminus by running via the chord behind Landore depot. Despite running slowly from there we still passed Port Talbot around 30 minutes after leaving Llanelli. The slow running was due to following another class 158, presumably the 13:08 Milford Haven to Manchester which would have made more calls than our train. At Bridgend, I alighted to double back to Port Talbot Parkway, and didn’t have long to wait before a class 150 arrived to take me there.
Three First Great Western INTERCITY 125 class 43 power cars at Swansea Landore depot
Landore Line-up: INTERCITY 125s at the Swansea depot
In hindsight, I probably would have got to Port Talbot slightly earlier had I changed at Carmarthen or Llanelli onto a Swansea service and picked up a Swansea-Paddington train there, but I had a long wait in store at Port Talbot anyway so that was not a problem. While I was waiting, at least two (it may have been three) Intercity 125s ran through non-stop heading towards Cardiff. Since the Paddington services normally call at Port Talbot, I surmised these were empty stock moves to Cardiff to provide rugby extra services. Also, as if to prove that Arriva Trains Wales’ shortage of decent rolling stock is still present, the Gloucester to Fishguard service called as scheduled, but worked by a class 150.
Class 175 train passing Port Talbot signal box
Signalbox and Steelworks, a view from the new footbridge at Port Talbot Parkway, with a westbound class 175/1 in the foreground
I’ve gone all the way from Gloucester to Fishguard & Goodwick on that service before, it was a 150 then too and wasn’t my idea of fun. Sundays are different, but the unit which works the Gloucester to Fishguard service is normally supposed to be the class 158 which does the Fishguard boat train the next day, so a 150 on one service generally implies the other will have been or will be.

Eventually, rugby fans started alighting trains from Cardiff, including three other members of my family. Thus reunited, we were able to embark on the next leg of our journey; by car. We eventually found our way out of Port Talbot and onto the M4.

This story has now been continued in this blog post.

Election 2016 – Leader Q&A

Over the course of last week, BBC Wales ran a series of five half-hour ”Ask The Leader’ television programmes, broadcast from around Wales. Each featured the leader of a political party, who was questioned by the members of a small audience.

Monday’s programme featured Andrew R.T. Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, UKIP’s Nathan Gill was in the spotlight on Tuesday, Kirsty Williams of the Liberal Democrats took to the stage on Wednesday, followed by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood on Thursday and finally Carwyn Jones, the leader of Welsh Labour, on Friday.

This blog post mainly discusses the points I singled out as being noteworthy from a climate and/or transport perspective.

Andrew R. T. Davies (Welsh Conservatives)

Andrew R.T. Davies was asked whether he supported carbon taxes, but didn’t give a straight answer either way. He dodged the question by saying he favoured a mix of low-cost energy sources, which to me sounded like “cut subsidies for renewable electricity generation and keep burning fossil fuels”.

Another question accused Labour of concentrating mostly on the Cardiff area and ignoring the rest of Wales, asking whether the Conservatives would be any different. I may not have been paying full attention at the time, but the only specific project mentioned was making the A40 (in Pembrokeshire, presumably) into a dual carriageway. More capacity for more polluting cars, and speeding up journeys for motorists at the expense of the rail network; not my idea of a good policy.

A few days later, the Welsh Conservatives announced that they intend to try and introduce 80mph speed limits on the M4 and A55, again speeding up journeys for motorists at the expense of the rail network. When will the counter-productive transport policies stop?

Nathan Gill (United Kingdom Independence Party (Wales))

Nathan Gill confirmed my fears that UKIP are a reckless party of environmental suicide. I still accuse both Labour and the Conservatives of similar, but they’re not quite as bad as UKIP.

Happily, one audience member had the courage to dub UKIP’s plan to ignore climate change as their craziest policy yet. Against a statement that almost all scientists agree that current climate change is man-made, Mr Gill tried to defend his position by suggesting that most of those scientists are not climate scientists, and that we should look it up on the internet. So I did, and most climate scientists also seem to agree that we are causing climate change. Even in the unlikely case that humanity is not the cause, consider the other part of Nathan Gill’s argument. He didn’t deny that the climate was changing, but suggested that stopping it was akin to trying to stop the tide coming in. The tide we know about, and can generally allow for. On the contrary, we have no idea what the world will be like if the 2 degree climate threshold is passed. Natural climate fluctuations in the distant past are suspected to have caused mass extinctions, so it is not unreasonable to fear a mass extinction might occur should the current changes to our climate continue. Thus, if we accept Nathan Gill’s stance on climate change we must accept that we are doomed. Thankfully, we don’t have to vote for his party.

On transport, Nathan Gill stated that UKIP preferred the ‘Blue Route’ M4 relief road at £400m to the £1bn second motorway (Labour’s ‘Black Route’). Sadly, this saving on the M4 wasn’t to fund public transport; instead he proposed spending the rest of that £1bn on the A55 and A470, suggesting it was currently easier to drive via England (using motorways) than use the A470.

Nathan also suggested he would break EU law if elected, by making the Welsh government use only Welsh steel. If he did this, would Wales be fined by the EU? Also, a survey has apparently shown that immigration is the second most important issue for voters in the forthcoming election, despite the fact that is not a devolved matter. These are issues for the EU referendum in June; clearly the role of the Welsh Assembly hasn’t been made nearly clear enough to the people of Wales.

Kirsty Williams (Welsh Liberal Democrats)

One of the questions Kirsty Williams was asked was similar to one of those put to Andrew R.T. Davies earlier in the week; regarding paying more attention to / spending more money on, more of Wales than just the Cardiff area. Her response was in stark contrast to the Welsh Conservative leader’s; rather than pledging future road investment she focused on other issues such as education. For example, she stated that her party had in the past achieved a better spread of schools funding across Wales, presumably as a condition of the Liberal Democrats supporting Labour’s budget.

The same focus on other areas was evident when the subject of the M4 came up. Like UKIP, the Lib Dems would scrap the hugely destructive £1bn ‘Black Route’, but would spend the money saved on creating more ‘affordable’ housing. She didn’t say where the houses would be built, but provided they are put somewhere with strong public transport links the policy articulated by Kirsty is by far the most sensible position of all the leaders questioned so far in the BBC’s series. Such a shame then that her party is still being attacked over some of the Tory policies they were unable to block in coalition, particularly university tuition fees. The British public needs to get over this; the tuition fees went up because they voted the Tories in, not because of the Lib Dems.

Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru)

Some of the questions on the fourth evening were quite different to those put to the other four leaders over the week. Nobody else was asked about Bovine TB and the controversial (and apparently futile) measures to eradicate it. Neither did the issue of nuclear power receive as much attention in the other programmes, making this episode the nearest the series came to discussing measures to tackle climate change. Plaid Cymru, it was revealed, are opposed to ‘fracking’, would not open new open-cast coal mines and don’t want to see a new nuclear power station anywhere other than on Anglesey, where they are looking to safeguard jobs following the shutdown of the current plant.

Leanne seemed keen to avoid a coalition with another party following the election, but only ruled out the Conservatives and UKIP as potential coalition partners.

Carwyn Jones (Welsh Labour Party)

The incumbent First Minster was at least the third leader to be asked about the Cardiff-focus of the current Welsh Government. Specifically, in this case (with the programme being broadcast from Llangollen), the question was why North Wales sometimes feels more remote Cardiff Bay than Westminster. Much like the Conservative’s on Monday, the Welsh Labour leader turned to roads in his attempt to address this. Apparently, Labour’s preferred hugely destructive M4 project being funded via borrowing would leave the current roads budget untouched, allowing major work on the A55 as well including a new bridge across the Menai Strait.

While Labour, along with the Tories, seem to be planning the most destructive roads, the Labour leader did at least have something to say about public transport as well. Carwyn Jones announced a ‘North Wales Metro’, to be paid for via a ‘City Deal’, and claimed improvements would come from devolving rail and bus services. Exactly what they would do with the powers if/when they get them devolved was not elaborated on though.

The Missing Party?

There the BBC’s series ended, there was no sixth programme to feature Alice Hooker-Stroud, leader of the Wales Green Party. The recently-started ‘BBC Wales Today’ election tour features a large cut-out figures of the five leaders discussed above in the tent, but Alice Hooker-Stroud is not pictured. Neither UKIP nor the Greens have any seats in the Welsh Assembly, so why does UKIP feature in the BBC’s coverage as much as the four parties who do have seats?

I suppose the BBC do occasionally acknowledge the existence of the Greens. ‘Wales Today’ covered the launch of the Green’s manifesto on Tuesday, just before the UKIP leader’s programme. The BBC will also be including all six main parties in a forthcoming televised debate, but I don’t believe the amount of coverage they are getting in comparison to UKIP is at all fair.

Reckless by name…

…reckless by nature.

Open-top bus in UKIP yellow and purple colours
The nearest UKIP will ever get to a sustainable transport policy? Creative Commons photograph of UKIP bus by Ian Roberts
Today, UKIP is due to publish their manifesto for the Welsh Assembly election in May. With the election just a few weeks away, right now the party are probably the biggest threat in Britain to the well-being of future generations, and of wildlife. Although they won just one seat at last year’s general election, this was with the deeply flawed ‘First Past The Post’ voting system. Conversely, there is a proportional element to the assembly election, if this is made clear to the electorate then there’s a real chance of UKIP having quite a number of assembly members following the election.

That, to me, is a frightening prospect.

Of course, I am writing this before their new manifesto is published, so cannot know their current policy in full. But I have two documents produced for the Westminster election, their national manifesto and the one produced by UKIP’s Welsh arm.

The latter document doesn’t mention public transport at all, at least not in the section on transport policy (half of which relates to opposing tolls on roads). The only mention comes under the heading ‘economy’ where they say they will cancel HS2.

In fairness, UKIP do seem to have a few sensible policies. Is cancelling HS2 one of them? If HS2’s current planned route is the only option on the table then I have to agree with UKIP, but we probably do need new lines to provide greater rail capacity.

Heathrow airport
The Runway To Runaway Climate Change. Creative commons photograph of Heathrow airport by ‘Panhard’
It is their stance on the environment that is scary. The anti-HS2 policy heads the transport section of the national party’s document, but this followed by an alarming view on London airports: they are in favour of expansion. They claim there is currently a lack of airport capacity in the south-east and propose re-opening a former airport to increase overall airport capacity. Clearly, they don’t care that allowing the aviation sector to emit even more greenhouse gas makes the task of keeping warming under 2 degrees much harder, perhaps even impossible. Not that they recognise the need to do that, the national manifesto also has a section entitled “Housing And The Environment”, which is mostly about housing and doesn’t mention climate change at all. Elsewhere in the document, they propose abolishing the Department for Energy and Climate Change and repealing the Climate Change Act.

But that was last year. Have UKIP cleaned up their act? Obviously, I haven’t seen their new manifesto yet, but unfortunately it doesn’t look good. Apparently:

On Wednesday March 2nd, the Climate Change Commission for Wales hosted their last meeting in its current form. All Welsh political parties were invited to sign a commitment to the Paris Agreement to demonstrate Wales’s commitment to tackling Climate Change. The Labour Party, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats the Conservatives and the Green Party all signed the pledge, while UKIP declined to sign.

The inspiration for this post, and its title, comes from the shockingly irresponsible stance UKIP has taken here. UKIP’s Mark Reckless, acting as director of policy development for UKIP’s assembly campaign “responded to the request to sign the pledge from the Climate Change Commission for Wales with the one word email – “NO”“. Now do you see why I am frightened by the prospect of UKIP winning many seats in May?

Mark Reckless of UKIP
Reckless By Name And Nature: the man who said NO to climate change action pledge. Image by ‘Mobilelinkchecker’ released under a creative commons license
I’d be surprised if Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives can convince me that they are taking their pledge seriously, but UKIP it seems aren’t even pretending to be doing enough to cut emissions.

The full Climate Change Commission for Wales story reporting the reckless decision Mr Reckless has made can be found here.

Railcards For All?

Class 150 train at Fishguard & Goodwick station, with passengers leaving
Who had to pay full fare? Passengers leave a train at Fishguard & Goodwick
What are railcards for? One school of thought is that they are a public-service obligation, designed to help the parts of the population who are likely to be financially less well-off. An alternative view is that Railcards, rather than existing only to help those less able to afford travel, are there to increase revenue.

The range of national railcard products inherited from British Rail lends some credence to the former. They are available only to certain sectors of the population:

  • young people (and mature students) (16-25 railcard)
  • disabled persons
  • senior citizens

There is also a railcard for members of the armed forces. I do not know if the armed forces are well paid, so the ‘financially less well-off’ idea may or may not apply there. There is however one ex-BR national railcard which people outside these groups can purchase, the ‘Family & Friends Railcard’. This requires a group including at least one child, whether this makes such groups any less ‘well-off’ than a family group including students who are too old to be classed as children is an interesting question.

If railcards increase revenue, then that is achieved by encouraging more rail journeys than would be the case without railcards. This perspective is supported by the fact that the only national railcard introduced since privatisation is available to all age groups, regardless of profession and without the need to travel with children. The ‘Two Together Railcard’ does exactly what it says on the card, namely that a pair of named users must travel together to get the discount. Of course, running one car costs much the same regardless of the number of travellers, but the cost rail travel increases dramatically if everyone has to pay full fare; so you can see why the Two Together Railcard could help the trains win business. Adults travelling alone however currently cannot benefit from a national railcard, how many more could be persuaded to travel if there was a railcard product for one person, like the 16-25 railcard but available to everyone?

There are a few arguments against a ‘universal railcard’. The first is that, while it would probably increase rail travel, it could result in an overall reduction in revenue. Another is that you might as well just have lower fares to begin with, not bothering with railcards, and of course there’s the ‘railcards are only there to help the less well-off afford to travel’ argument.

Class 442 trains at Gatwick Airport railway station
Born of NSE: the class 442 ‘Wessex Electrics’, like the ‘Network Railcard’, were introduced by Network South East
All of these are challenged by the confusingly named ‘Network Railcard’. These days, the term ‘Network Railcard’ may lead people to believe it is valid on the whole rail network, but in this case the word ‘Network’ refers to British Rail’s ‘Network SouthEast’ (NSE) area. Thus, the ‘Network Railcard’ railcard is restricted to a certain area, like the Pembrokeshire railcard and similar local railcards, but the ‘Network Railcard’ is more significant since NSE covered a large area. At £30, the ‘Network Railcard’ costs the same as most national railcards, but can be bought by anybody and your discount can extend to a small group you are travelling with. NSE, unlike Regional Railways, required little if any subsidy, and most of the privatised train operating companies running in the ‘Network Railcard’ area now pay a premium to the government. That suggests that, if allowing everyone to purchase a railcard reduces revenue, it doesn’t do so by much.

A ‘railcard for anyone’ might even increase revenue, indeed Railfuture have claimed that a 2003 study they commissioned shows that it would. Although anyone would be able to get 1/3 off fares, the railcard itself would not be free. Therefore, sales of the railcard are therefore producing revenue, which shows the argument that this is no different to cutting all fares by a third to be false. Having spent money on the railcard, passengers may also be inclined to travel more by rail to maximise the value-for-money they receive through the purchase of their railcard. It might even improve the perceived value-for-money of the train ticket itself, especially if the passenger is booking online where the non-discounted full fare would be shown to them.

And providing value-for-money is important. According to transport focus’ Autumn 2015 survey rail passenger satisfaction survey, less than half (48%) of passengers were satisfied with the value-for-money of their journey. Under ‘satisfaction on the train’, the only areas which performed worse were availability of staff (Department for Transport take note, stop trying to remove guards), dealing with delays and toilet facilities.

The current range of national railcard products (senior, 16-25, disabled, family-&-friends, two-together and HM Forces) all seem to have different restrictions, eg. for travel during peak times. I would suggest replacing them all (except the disabled persons card, which I would leave unchanged) with a smaller range of products, which would be available to all age groups but with more variations in pricing:

  • Anytime Railcard a railcard for one person with few, if any, peak restrictions (similar to the current senior railcard).
    Possible pricing:

    • Base price: £100
    • Concession price: £60
  • Leisure Railcard a railcard for one person subject to a minimum fare if used between 06:00 and 09:30 on weekdays (similar to the current 16-25 railcard)
    Possible pricing:

    • Base price: £80
    • Concession price: £30
  • Group RailcardSimilar to the Anytime railcard, but (like the ‘Family & Friends’ and ‘Network’ railcards) would allow passengers travelling with the holder to receive a discount too.
    Possible pricing:

    • Base price: £120
    • Concession price: £75

The suggested prices are just for illustration. Were this to be implemented, I would hope some careful consideration of the optimum price would be carried out. ‘Concessions’ would be persons who belong to the age groups covered by the 16-25 and senior railcards, as well as those who are eligible for the ‘Forces Railcard’ and the ‘Disabled Railcard’ although the latter is likely to be a better option for most eligible passengers than the new products proposed above. I’m not entirely sure the Group Railcard is really necessary, since there is a separate ‘Group Save’ scheme which provides similar discounts to groups of 3 or 4 people without them requiring a railcard, but there may be a case for both (or for replacing ‘Group Save’ with the new ‘Group Railcard’). As for the maximum size of the group, I would suggest one card would allow up to 6 people, of which up to 4 may be adults (1 adult and 5 children would also be permitted) to receive the railcard discount. The ‘Group Railcard’ would be valid regardless of whether any children are present in the group and would remain valid for the holder even if the he or she is travelling alone.

South west trains services in London Waterloo station
Britain’s Busiest Station: London Waterloo (caught at a quiet moment by the looks of it)
If Railfuture are correct that allowing anyone to buy a railcard would increase rail industry revenue, then I can see only one reason which might be preventing the introduction of such a scheme: capacity. Quite simply, if the railcard were available, would the trains be able to cope with the increase in rider ship? Then again, the busiest part of the network already has an area railcard available to all.

Transport Focus survey
Railfuture study

Consultation – Setting the Direction for Wales and Borders Rail

No full blog post this week, my apologies, although I’ve never promised to post regularly anyway.

One reason for today’s short post is that I have been busy writing a response to the Welsh Government’s consultation on the next Wales & Borders rail franchise and have not had time to write a proper blog post. Should you also wish to respond to the consultation, it is available here on the Welsh Government website.

5 Years Too Late

Fishguard & Goodwick station in 2013
Modern failure – The re-opened Fishguard & Goodwick station
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an online article from one of Pembrokeshire’s local newspapers regarding a proposal for a Fishguard and Goodwick railway museum. Apparently, the town councillor behind the idea is discussing the possibility of locating the museum at Fishguard & Goodwick station with Pembrokeshire County Council.

Goodwick station before demolition
Worthy Heritage – Goodwick station before demolition
Five years ago, I would almost certainly have thought this was a great idea. However, in August 2011 Pembrokeshire County Council demolished the original 1899 station building, which would have made a great home for the museum. In fact, not only could it have housed the museum it would itself have been a worthy exhibit. However, although Pembrokeshire County Council have constructed a replacement building, it does not have the stylistic qualities of the original.

Somewhere else which might have made a good home for a railway museum is Boncath station, which was up for sale recently, but Boncath isn’t the most accessible place in the world. Goodwick is better in that regard, but the new station building is a total failure in aesthetic regard.

The article referred to is here.

Since this is a rather short post, and relates to the old building at Goodwick station, I have recovered and re-published one of the old posts on the subject from my long-lost original blog. The recovered post can be found here.

Crossing The Cleddau

Most weeks, I commute to work in Pembroke Dock. I haven’t mentioned this before because I don’t use public transport, I travel with my father who drives. Normally, the roads are relatively quiet most of the way, suggesting there is little or no justification for a public transport service on our route to work.

However, the other week the Cleddau Bridge, on the main road between Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock, was closed to all traffic due to high winds. We don’t use this route, partly because the Cleddau Bridge has a toll and partly because it would involve going through Haverfordwest, which would slow us down. A lot of other people do though, apparently, since the Cleddau Bridge closure had forced the council to put men with stop-go boards to control traffic over the narrow bridge at Carew. This is on our route, and normally the traffic is light so we don’t have to wait long for oncoming traffic to finish crossing the bridge before it is our turn.

With the Cleddau Bridge closed however the stream of traffic over the Carew was constant, if the men with stop-go boards hadn’t been there nobody going in the other direction would have been going anywhere, perhaps for hours. This suggests that there is an awful lot of car commuting over the Cleddau Bridge between Pembroke / Pembroke Dock and Haverfordwest on a normal weekday, traffic which perhaps ought to be captured by public transport. This reminded me of one of my wild ideas, and made be think it might not be so wild after all.

Class 158 train on the Milford Haven branch in Pembrokeshire
Pembrokeshire Train: class 158 on the Milford Haven branch
The idea is this: create a railway bridge from Pembroke Dock across to Newland and rebuild the railway from there to Johnston, creating a circular Whitland – Tenby – Pembroke – Neyland – Haverfordwest – Whitland rail route around Pembrokeshire. This railway bridge would be lower down, so unlike the road bridge shouldn’t have to close when it gets windy, but you might need an opening section to allow ships to pass through. Yes, it would be hugely expensive, but if the traffic’s there it might actually be worth doing. The biggest problem I can see is getting the track through the town from Pembroke Dock station to the new bridge, I think the line used to continue into the dockyard but I’ve not noticed any evidence of where it ran.

What do you think, wild idea or not?

Disentangling The Distortion

In the third (and hopefully final) part of my series on blanket route numbering of bus services, I present proposals for sorting out the problems described previously.

X50 and 550 route logos on bus stops
Comparative Clarity: there used to be two Cardigan-Aberystwyth route numbers, which clearly distinguished most workings
To start, I will continue using my example of the mess north of Cardigan with the X50, 552 and 554 local services and the TrawsCymru T5 service. In this area, I would suggest the following routes, any of which could have short workings if necessary to appropriate service frequencies:

  • Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Cardigan – Fishguard (direct services only). These would be the only TrawsCymru services, personally I’d call it the TC5 rather than just T5. If you don’t want the college-days-only short working between Aberaeron and Cardigan branded as TrawsCymru that could be known as the X50 all by itself
  • 50 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – New Quay – Cardigan
  • 550 Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – New Quay – Aberporth – Cardigan
  • 552 New Quay – Llangrannog – Tresaith – Aberporth – Mwnt – Gwbert – Cardigan (Cardi Bach route)
  • 554 Beulah – Tresaith – Aberporth – Cardigan

With the above, for example, passengers from Aberporth to Penparc would have a clear choice of 550 or 554, they would know the 552 goes via Gwbert and is not for them. People bound for Gwbert from Cardigan would know they need a 552, and passengers for Aberporth would be able to see ’50’, ‘X50’ or ‘TC5’/’T5’ and know they needed to wait for a 550, 552 or 554. There are probably many more examples of the improved clarity this would bring. Admittedly Llangrannog’s once-weekly fast(ish) service to Cardigan would have to become a normal slow service via all the beaches, but nobody with a choice of mode is going to rely on such an infrequent service. Also, the one journey between Beulah and Cardigan via Gwbert would be re-routed via Penparc, meaning Beulah-Gwbert journeys would always require a change of bus, but that’s not likely to be a popular flow and an extra 552 (probably a short working between Cardigan and Aberporth/Tresaith) should be put in to maintain service levels at Gwbert.

X50 Optare Tempo bus in Aberystwyth
New Quay or not? The branding and destination blind suggest not, but in 2014 most X50 services did go via New Quay
The above is just to show it should be possible to solve the problem, but how to avoid the creation of blanket service numbers in the first place? I don’t think a hard-and-fast rule is possible, since an application of common sense is required. For example, there are two different routes that buses may take through Penparc, and some buses detour via Aberaeron school. I made the decision that the routes are not significantly different, with all points being within walking distance of the main route. Essentially, there needs to be a basic guideline but with a single mind to make a personal judgment. The person best placed to do this would probably be the Traffic Commissioner for each area. Bus services must be registered with the Traffic Commissioner, so they could be responsible for judging whether routes are significantly different, and preventing registration of services which would lead to a settlement being served by more than one ‘significantly different’ route with the same number. If they receive a registration which conflicts with this policy, they would instruct the operator(s) concerned to use a different number (or numbers).

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